|How External Factors and Stakeholders Impact Corrections|
|By Gerard J. Horgan , Superintendent, Suffolk County House of Correction MA|
From Officers to Administrators, corrections professionals never know what will happen on a given day when they report to the institution for work. Probably more than any other area of law enforcement, corrections is reliant on external factors which impact our industry. Regardless of what part of the country you live in and what your role is in corrections, these external stakeholders can benefit us or make our jobs even more challenging.
Police Agencies: If the local police decide to conduct a large sweep of offenders who have warrants or make mass arrests of people involved in the drug trade, our pre-trial facilities can expect a large night of intakes, many of whom may be under the influence or detoxing. Our counts are reliant on the number of arrests that the police make and our medical staffs often are required to deal with a sick population.
Prosecutors: When the local District Attorney or Attorney General makes prosecuting certain crimes a priority, we can expect to see an increase in our count. If the prosecutors make the charges mandatory, the offender’s ability to earn time off of his or her sentence may be eliminated. This improves public safety but also takes away a motivational tool (in earned good time or time off for good behavior) that corrections can use to reduce the possibility that the inmate will be problematic inside.
Probation and Parole: Approximately 7 million adults are under supervision with 2.2 million of them being incarcerated. When offenders violate the terms of their probation or parole, they can be surrendered and sent to a local correctional facility. When probation does a large number of surrenders, it can impact bed space, classification and overall safety of the institution.
Courts: Besides the Judges having the ability to sentence men and women to our custody, the courts have the ability to dictate how we do business. The courts generally follow the “due deference doctrine” which allows corrections professionals the discretion to operate jails and prisons. However, the courts have limited correctional facilities’ abilities to strip search pre-arraignment arrestees unless there is probable cause. The US Supreme Court recently ruled that strip searches may be allowed even without probable cause which could make our jobs safer.
Courts also rule on the lawsuits filed by offenders, their families and advocacy groups. These cases often involve conditions of confinement, access to the legal system and medical care issues. Suits and the threat of litigation can cause institutions to change their policies and can have an adverse impact on budgets if the facility is not successful in defending the case.
In severe cases of overcrowding, courts may require that offenders be released to ensure that the living conditions pass constitutional muster. In these cases (most recently seen on a large scale in California), decisions must be made about which inmates are released.
Inmate Advocacy Groups: There are numerous organizations that work to ensure that those who are incarcerated are treated humanely. They will frequently make inquiries of medical care, overcrowding, and safety issues. They react to offender complaints which may or may not have merit. This causes the local Sheriff’s or Department of Corrections to respond to these complaints.
If you look at the criminal justice system as a series of dominoes that begins with arrest, proceeds through the trial process and, in the case of conviction, ends up with some level of supervision which may include incarceration, it is evident that corrections has little say about the number or type of the offenders who we will be dealing with. We are the repository pool for the waterfall of the criminal justice system.
There is an expression in corrections, “If you build it, they will come” meaning that beds are usually filled as soon as they are available. These external forces impact us every day but must not deter us from handling our responsibility – providing care and custody for the men and women committed to us.
Editor's note: Corrections.com author, Gerard J. Horgan, has been the Superintendent at the Suffolk County House of Correction in Boston since 2003. He has been with the Sheriff’s Department for 24 years. A graduate of Northeastern University and Suffolk University Law School, Horgan has trained staff in inmate rights and civil liability and is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Massachusetts where he teaches Corrections and Criminal Justice. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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